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At Facebook, India's PM Talks Democracy and Economic Growth, Nothing About Facebook's India Woes

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi fielded pre-screened questions onstage at 1 Hacker Way.


What is the Indian government doing to connect hundreds of millions of people to the Internet? How quickly are the necessary reforms coming along?

Onstage for a livestreamed town-hall Q&A with Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook headquarters this morning, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi fielded queries like these, and more. Modi’s responses focused on the economic opportunity in India created by tech, using broad, optimistic language that sounded natural coming from a Silicon Valley podium.

“The three Ds are our unique strengths — demographic dividend, democracy and demand,” Modi said. “I’m adding a fourth D: Deregulation.”

Modi also highlighted that “direct investment from the U.S. has grown by 87 percent in the last 15 months,” and, with a particularly Google-y flourish, said that as cities were once located on highways or rivers, “cities are going to be situated on networks of fibers.”

The questions, which were pre-screened, did not address the two largest issues that Facebook faces in India: The potential telecom regulation of its popular messaging app WhatsApp and the fate of its access initiative, That was likely intentional. India’s regulators have yet to weigh in on and telecom, which is wary of Facebook’s plans and carries significant political weight in the country.

Plus, Modi is also working on Internet access with Facebook’s rival, Google. Before the Facebook event, the search engine and the Modi government announced a plan to equip 500 Indian railway stations with free Wi-Fi, an initiative that has been in the works for several months.

On Twitter, some called out the canned nature of the whole event, pointing out the Modi protesters across the street and how the Indian government has suspended Internet usage in the Kashmir region:

Modi’s trip this week has included meetings with Google, Facebook, Apple and Tesla, as Silicon Valley lobbies the Indian government behind closed doors. Before he leaves the country, Modi is set to meet with Google and stop by a reception organized by the Indian-American community. More than 17,000 people are slated to attend.

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